Austen Henry Layard (pronounced Laird) is a classic example of the intrepid traveler cum archaeologist, the picaresque hero, that 19th century England excelled in producing. This volume is an edited re-issue of Layard's account of his excavation in the ""Fertile Crescent"" of Mesopotamia which formed the basis of the celebrated Assyrian collection at the British Museum. All this was accomplished in a few years when the author was barely thirty. The book was an immediate success in 1849 and understandably so: Layard coped with plundering Arab tribes, venal Turks, conniving officials, beastly weather and uncertain politics and funds. He also engineered the removal of colossal sculptures by floating them down the Tigris on inflated sheepskin rafts -- a dazzling feat. The image of the proper English gentleman, cool in crisis, adopting native dress, picking up a variety of dialects, sketching and commenting with a fine eye for detail, telling tales of surpassing cruelty, all must have excited his countrymen at home. There is a scholarly introduction by H.W.S. Saggs who outlines Layard's life and gently corrects incidents Layard's fancy may have ornamented. He also mercifully attempts to set the political record of the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century straight -- separating the Kurds from the Beys...and the Arabs, Chaldeans, Russians, Egyptians, French, English and a host of others then mucking about in the Middle East.